Running back into the ocean for the start of the second swim I watched the wall of water growing in front of me. I knew our, the race participants near me and me, timing was just right to match with this set rolling in. That is sarcasm. I recall thinking sets usually come in 4. We ran toward it, some bodies already further out there riding up and over, others plunging through, others diving under the wave. I thought those swimmers out there might have had better timing, but my timing was not favorable, and the gods were not going to throw us a bone.
The water was being sucked back forcefully from the shore adding to the growing wave. It was not going to be good, I thought, but I would give it a go, with apprehension. That was a mistake. In hindsight I would see that I needed to commit, but maybe my monkey brain (survival?) knew better to live or at least not be carried out by a lifeguard. What I relive is going out, attempting to go under only to be suddenly in a blender, then deposited further back on shore, then again into it I went, this time the blender was dark, black: how long til I pop up, where is the bottom, I hope I don’t get tossed into another person, stay calm, wait it out, I can hold my breath much longer than I think. This last thought I recall from professional surfer Laird Hamilton in the book The Wave where he said “we can hold our breath much longer than we think”, he was referring to surfers being held down, like I felt in this moment, by a wave. This was a good time to recall this as I rolled in the oceans blender. After the third hit, I intentionally headed for shore to regroup, but the suck back prevented me. I looked at another women next to me, we both agreed we just had to wait, we were in no mans land, couldn’t get in to shore and couldn’t get out to swim. And, hopefully we just had one more big one to wait through.
Finally, I started out again. It was slightly calmer, I got through it okay. The second mistake I had made, again in hindsight, was I mentally gave up on ever placing in my age group. Originally I was here to improve my time over last year, push through on the bike-my weakest leg in my age group compared to previous years- then let it rip on the run. Coming into the race I was feeling very good physically, but a little concerned about the mud, it was slick, thick, and sticky like cement to the bike. Of course that was the same for everyone. But on that swim I backed off my mental game, my drive, I dropped my expectations for the race overall.
The second leg of the swim was crazy choppy, but I was feeling strong and slick, just sliding through the chaos. In the back of my mind I was hoping for better timing in exiting the water, and I was hoping another big set would not be greeting me again. As I got closer to the shore I would look forward to where I was to exit, then back watching for waves sneaking up behind me.The ocean was with us at this time, well I did get taken down but this time it pushed me in the direction I wanted to go, the shore.
The mountain bike usually starts on the golf cart path for about half mile then into the woods onto a single track trail. Fortunately the race crew changed the first few miles of the bike to stay on the golf cart path for 1.5 miles, chopping off 1.5 miles of the muddy single track. I was psyched as the part they chopped off was not only slick but had tight corners and canted hills. It was a big challenge to get any speed or momentum because it was a turn, climb and tilt on top of the slick stuff. Days earlier it took me 40 minutes to go those first few miles of this course! Staying on the golf course shortened the course but, did help us spread out a little more.
Onto the single track felt good but was short lived. As soon as we hit the mud 3 miles in the sliding commenced. I aimed toward the edge to get some traction in the grass, but this presented another problem as the grass and loose debris caked up with the mud. The mud and grass grew like birds nest forming on the bike frame. I pedaled with great effort, reached down to pull out clumps, used my gloved hand to scrape the sides of the tires, anything to keep the mud off. It was really useless as it just clumped back up immediately. Plus, there was a long continuous line of athletes pushing, sliding, attempts at riding, and the rare sighting of someone actually riding through. So I joined the parade of pushers. When possible I did get on to ride.
Once onto the ridge, the top of the first long climb, I was able to get on to ride. Sliding down a moderately steep section, I think I covered about a half mile, before I was off again, into a long line of athletes pushing their bikes up another slick hill. The good news was the pushing was just about over, the course was drying out, therefore a little more ridable.
Of special note, I say mud but not all of it was pure mud. I think the combo of retired sugar cane fields (manure fertilizer?) and wild boars meant a little bonus to those wet spots. The “muddy puddles” we went through smelled like poop. On my pre-ride of the course I did hear the honk of a wild boar in the tall grass. Note to self, keep my mouth closed tight. Sooo needless to say, my gear did stink post race. Just sharing.
The second part of my bike was way better than the first, I was riding, but the clock had been ticking. I was really behind my time goal. On the upside, I felt I would be strong going into the run. Once off the bike and into the run, I felt good. I felt great. But, this thing I have had in this race in particular is my left hamstring cramping. I could feel it coming on, but I felt so determined I just pushed through it by focusing on staying relaxed. Also, I started to mass consume food the last 5 miles of the bike since it was impossible to eat on the first part of the bike because I was pushing so much. The start of the run I was hoping the fuel from the last bit of the bike would help with the hamstrings. Just to be sure the cramping wasn’t due to low blood sugar, I ate a package of honey stringer bloks in the first mile of the run.
The run course feels like an uphill for 3 miles then downhill for 3 miles with a couple little uphill pops, 3 to be exact as I counted in my pre-race run. My favorite part of this run is a ridge the last mile. It has hints to the ocean below, some shade and downhill! Then through the dry creek, onto the soft sand where we all started the swim hours earlier, up the pavement, onto the soggy grass to the finish line shoot. Yay!
This was tons of fun, I was having a great time being out on the trail in the forest of Maui slipping, sliding, and pushing myself. My time was not my best but I did give it my best run. I knew this trail system so well by now after so many years of competing. As tough as it is, I do love this course. As I ran down the sandy beach for the last 400 yards to the finish, I was simultaneously grateful for this race as well as planning to return for next year!
What I learned from this race experience is to practice more visualizations of different scenarios of conditions. I realize post race that I had come into this race seeing myself pushing my bike, which is what I did. On the swim I recognize that I pulled back on my mental game. Okay to a point to be safe and smart, but then back to it. This is where racing is a large percentage of a mental game.
I appreciated the support from friends and athletes I work (I also consider you my friends!). Thank you All!!